“He keeps the flies out of the honey.”
That’s what George McPhee said about Ryan Reaves when the Vegas Golden Knights re-signed him in July 2018.
That’s also the effect Kurtis Gabriel hopes to have on the San Jose Sharks next year.
“You don’t want Evander Kane having to fight Ryan Reaves just so your team doesn’t get bullied,” Gabriel told San Jose Hockey Now last week.
In theory, McPhee and Gabriel’s thinking makes sense. It’s a time-honored hockey tradition that having an intimidator like a Reaves around allows your stars to focus more on hockey. It’s why celebrities have bodyguards, right?
However, in practice, at least in the case of Kane, it’s hard to say if having a potential deterrent like Gabriel will make a difference. By difference, I mean will having an enforcer by his side discourage Kane from taking penalties and fighting? That’s one thing everyone can agree on: The San Jose Sharks are almost always better served by having a player of Kane’s caliber on the ice instead of in the box.
“It’s hard to say” because the sample size is so small: Since he’s arrived in San Jose, Kane has played with just a single enforcer, Micheal Haley. And that was for only 12 games in 2018-19. This is how he fared, with and without Haley:
|Kane w/ Haley||12||3||2||5||0.42||42||3.5||6||0.5||2|
|Kane w/o Haley||63||27||24||51||0.81||111||1.76||32||0.51||1|
I stress again that these stats are far, far from conclusive. But it’s fair to say there’s no evidence here that Haley took any load off Kane. And it’s fair to say, at least based on these numbers, that Kane didn’t alter his style of play with a (middle) heavyweight on his side.
Of course, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Intimidation might be, like leadership and team chemistry, another one of those immeasurable intangibles that are important for success in the sport. It’s not silly to trust the guys who have lived and breathed it like Kane, Gabriel, or McPhee.
But on the other hand, without the data to back it up, there’s an opening to question hockey tradition, which is not a bad thing in general.
Would a Gabriel have made a difference last year in Florida, when Mike Hoffman tried to goad Erik Karlsson into a fight and Kane got kicked out of the game for avenging a questionable MacKenzie Weegar hit? Does Kane need help so the San Jose Sharks aren’t “bullied”?
Again, it’s hard to say. But Doug Wilson seems to think so.
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